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How ADD Affects the Family

Things Parents Can Do To Help Siblings of ADD

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are among the most common conditions diagnosed in children today. Characterized by symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, these disorders can be frustrating for parents and children alike.

Living with a child that has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD can bring out a lot of emotions within a family; some are good while others are bad. It is not uncommon for siblings to become jealous of the attention that is given to the affected child, and often they will resent the extra burden of responsibility that is placed on them.

There are ways to alleviate some of the negative feelings within the home. Parents need to remember that ADD affects not only the individual who has been diagnosed with the disorder, but all members of the family. Living with ADD can be very stressful at times. It is important for families to keep the lines of communication open for everyone. Here are some things that parents can do to help the siblings of ADD children:

  • Explain to your child about ADD so they know what to expect.
  • Tell them your expectations of their sibling – what he can and can't do.
  • Ask them how they think the illness is affecting them.
  • Make sure they know that it is not their fault.
  • Share with them ways to express their frustration in a productive way.
  • Tell them it's OK to feel angry.
  • Encourage them to keep a journal (if age allows) of how they are feeling, then take time once a week to review it with them.

When a parent is spending all of their energy supporting and finding help for their ADD child, it is easy to neglect the other children. Often a sibling will have a lack of affection towards their brother or sister.

"I couldn't stand it when she started raging. She would yell and get everyone upset," says Tim Davis, a high school student in Georgia whose sister was diagnosed at age 5 with ADD, and now suffers from other co-morbid conditions as a teenager. "Sometimes I just couldn't stand to be around her. I really thought she could control it, that she was just doing it to cause trouble."

Davis is not alone in his feelings of anger against his sister. He has been living with it for 11 years and has had to make a lot of compromises along the way.

"There were times I didn't think I mattered as much – like my parents spent so much time reading books about ADD, and trying to figure out how to help her – that I didn't want to bother them about me," says Davis. "It was easier to just hang out with my friends, and leave my parents alone."

Many parents have a difficult time understanding this lack of empathy, and have found themselves resenting their other children for not comprehending their sibling's problems. One way that a lot of families have discovered to prevent some of the resentment is to include the siblings in family discussions about the affected child. It is not a good idea to keep members of the family in the dark about this disorder. Ignorance can be a frightening thing.

Oftentimes a sibling or other family member will go through stages of grief. As in the loss of a family member, they feel that they lost the expectations they once had for that particular relationship. They also feel grief because they don't know how to react to their sibling and are confused about all the anger they are feeling.

It is so important to support each other and accept that this is your family; the good and the bad. It's healthy to be able to work through the emotions of fear, anger and grief, and finally come to accept your child and the dynamics of your family. Joining a support group is a wonderful way for families to be able to confront some of the feelings of anger, confusion, guilt or shame.

The sooner a family understands ADD, the easier it will be to relate to the child who has the disorder. Whether you are the parent or the sibling, understanding some of the emotions and how to deal with them will put you on the road to living in a healthy, harmonious environment.

"In a family of nine, with three boys who have ADD, it can be quite disruptive at best," says Julie Ford of Fallston, Md. "When the ADD kids get away with not finishing a chore, the other children regularly become resentful – not of us, but of their sibling."

Kids Will Be Kids

"Kids with ADD can sometimes be pretty tough on their parents and siblings," says Dr. Peter Jaksa, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist from Chicago, Ill. "It is important to keep in mind that these children are first and foremost children, like any other kids."

When dealing with family issues, it is hard for a younger sibling to comprehend the needs of their ADD brother or sister. They see things from the perspective of a child, not an adult who has read all the literature on ADD. Don't assume that your child understands; keep an open mind when it comes to their needs.

Children with ADD have so many great qualities and strengths that can be enhanced by sibling involvement. If your child is an artist, encourage their sibling to sit and draw with them. Every time you encourage positive interaction between siblings, whether they have a disorder or not, everyone wins. ADD children really want to feel accepted.

"My 'GFG' (Gift from God, ADD son) is 7 years old," says Suzanne Guidry of Louisiana. "He is a funny, happy and loving boy who is a joy to be around. But when he gets mad, he is very difficult to handle. He throws things, yells, spits, hits, kicks and locks us out of his room. His brother is his best friend. He follows him everywhere he goes. He is only 4, and sometimes that can be bad. If my older son is in a meltdown, his brother is the first one he tries to hurt."

It is very hard to explain to a younger child that their brother or sister really does love them, even though they can be hurtful toward them.

An important thing to remember in families where there is high levels of stress at times, is that love does conquer all. There will be as many good times as bad times. Focus as much attention on the good times, and stay available for all the members of the family. Family is togetherness, and in families where a child has ADD, this is key to survival.

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